The Children’s Society has launched a petition asking the UK Government to reinstate legal aid for all unaccompanied and separated migrant children.
The petition also calls on the government to always waive application fees and the costly immigration health surcharge in their immigration applications.
In 2012 the government decided to remove free legal help for roughly 15,000 unaccompanied and separated migrant children, leaving them alone and struggling to pay for the expert legal advice they desperately need.
A new report by the Children’s Society shows that the vulnerable migrant children who are in the UK alone are facing a punishing combination of cuts to help with legal costs and skyrocketing Home Office fees as they struggle to resolve their complex immigration cases.
The charity’s report, “Cut off from Justice”, written in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire, reveals that those affected by the changes include unidentified victims of trafficking, children who are in local authority care after becoming separated from their families and, in some cases, children born in the UK who may be able to claim British citizenship.
Without legal aid, children must find the money themselves, rely on services offering free immigration advice, or make a claim for Exceptional Case Funding – a ‘safety net’ scheme which should make sure the most vulnerable in society can still get help with legal costs.
The report reveals that the past four years have seen a massive 50% reduction in the number of free legal services available for children’s immigration cases. With one third of the remaining services concentrated in London and the South East, children face a postcode lottery when trying to find free immigration advice.
Even if a young person does get the legal help to make their claim, they still have to find a way to pay eye-watering Home Office administration fees, which can be as high as £2,300. These fees are climbing sharply, with increases of up to 119% in the last four years.
With no other options, some children try to resolve their immigration issues on their own, making their chances of success much worse. Others are at risk of exploitation as they try to find a way to pay the thousands of pounds of legal costs and application fees themselves.
The petition urges the government to ensure that all children and young people in the UK are kept safe and have equal access to justice, regardless of where they were born.
Click here to sign the petition and call on the UK Government to reinstate legal aid for all unaccompanied and separated migrant children.